Fashion forward: Bucks unveil new uniforms at block party
It’s a well-worn storyline when discussing this franchise, a compare-and-contrast, before-and-after, look-how-far-they’ve-come sportswriter’s device that’s been severely overworked for a year now. But, after Saturday’s stunning spectacle, it bears revisiting.
A little more than 13 months ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were a moribund team coming off a 15-win season that was the rottenest in franchise history. They had the NBA’s worst record and its lowest attendance; 2013-14 sat down as a sad nadir that was the sorry culmination of years of on-court mediocrity and off-court irrelevance.
Then they got new owners.
Since New York-based billionaires Marc Lasry and Wes Edens purchased the franchise from Herb Kohl for $550 million last April, the Bucks have been sculpted into something distinctly different from their previous iterations — a better basketball product, yes, but also a more conspicuously conscious brand.
Over the past year, the team has shaken up front office and operations staff, drafted its second potential superstar in forward Jabari Parker, traded for high-profile coach Jason Kidd, coined the slogan "Own The Future," released brand-negative center Larry Sanders, moved their corporate offices downtown to Schlitz Park, made a surprising deadline trade for point guard Michael Carter-Williams, announced new official logos and color schemes, reached out to and connected with past franchise icons, improved by 26 wins to finish at 41-41, and reached the playoffs as the sixth seed, losing last month to the rival Chicago Bulls in six games.
On Saturday, all the Bucks did was unveil new uniforms — an offseason promotional affair, and in the past something that never would have been considered. But, with the momentum of the team’s newfound success, the recent progress on a new arena, topnotch promotional planning and execution, and fortuitous good weather, a long-beleaguered, recently rejuvenated fan base turned out in force to delight in it.
The inaugural Bucks Summer Block Party, which took place on a sunny, mid-60s day on a closed-off street outside team headquarters, appeared to be a smashing success. The free event, complete with music, food and drink vendors, games, activities, giveaways and appearances by current and former players, was ostensibly done in the name of showing off the team’s new home and road jerseys.
It was the kind of event that could have been done simply with a press release; rather, it was done by unfurling down a 12-story Schlitz Park building a humongous, full-color banner featuring Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the new unis, just after the two faces of the franchise had finished amping up the crowd on stage, as green confetti dropped from the sky and the team’s 1970s theme song "The Bucks Don’t Stop Here" played. It connected past and present, albeit via a disco connection, with a team-estimated 10,000 fans gaping and screaming.
In a statement released by the team, Alex Lasry said, "Our new uniforms will serve as a showcase of our franchise’s proud heritage and bright future on the NBA’s global stage." On an actual stage, in Milwaukee just before the big reveal, the young vice president of strategy and operations declared, "Milwaukee basketball is not only back, but it’s bigger and better than ever," and "the new jerseys are a big part of the new look and the new Bucks."
Cue the cheers.
Before that, Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak fan favorite who just returned from traveling around the world, including to his hometown of Sepolia, Greece, and Taiwan on an NBA Cares trip, was as endearingly charismatic and popular as ever, saying "Our goal was to make the playoffs, and we made it," and "If I’m better, the team will be better."
Cue those cheers.
And Parker, last year’s No. 2 pick and the more reserved player, who’s been rehabilitating his knee after a torn ACL ended his rookie season last December, earned applause, telling the crowd, "I’m still working for y’all," as well as amusement, divulging to them that "I’m a big Star Wars fan" and part of his "Jedi journey" was to travel to Peru and other destinations this offseason. Cue some more cheers.
Bucks team president Peter Feigin, who would later be voluntarily sunk in the dunk tank, got the biggest hand of all, asking the assembled from the top of the Schlitz building, "Are you ready to see the future?" and then dropping down the massive banner.
Fans seemed to like the new uniforms, whose font, colors and design blended modern and classic in a way that is uniquely aware of Milwaukee. The new elements include an ‘M’ crest on the blue collar, which is supposed to represent the blue-collar work ethic, as well as a gold tab commemorating the franchise’s 1971 championship, a new "Fear the Deer" tag at the bottom of the jerseys, and various other design features cognizant of the team and city heritage.
"The uniforms are awesome," said Mike Davis, 24, a Bucks fan from West Allis who came to the Block Party with friends. "They’re cool but not over the top, something different and new, which is the best thing."
Certainly, the Bucks have experimented with different and new, trying variously colored jerseys in the past with varying levels of positive response. Many of those uniforms were on display Saturday, as white Michael Redds, purple Glen Robinsons, green Brandon Jenningses and red John Hensons comingled, almost making an observer forget about the No. 23 Ruben Patterson jersey that stole the show. Meanwhile, men who used to actually wear such jerseys, including Bob Dandridge and Vin Baker, ate bratwursts, thanked the organization for reaching back out to them and talked about how great the event was.
Parker and Antetokounmpo, after seeing themselves literally posterizing a building in the new duds, were both digging the Bucks’ look and the mania surrounding the team.
"I love them. They’re really nice," Parker said of the uniforms. "Not too loud, not too flamboyant. Just real slick, simple, smooth."
And the turnout?
"It was great. Really good turnout, the community came out to support us," he said. "That’s really huge; it’s important for our team."
Antetokounmpo, open and engaging as ever, let out a long, weary sigh before he met with reporters, perhaps due to his media obligations or perhaps due to his "busy day" of interacting with young fans.
"It was great," Antetokounmpo said of the Block Party. "Playing with little kids, seeing the joy on their faces gives me joy too. Makes me happy."
The significance of several thousand Bucks fans turning out for an event in early June was not lost on the 20-year-old.
"It’s a great feeling, seeing all these people out in the sun, waiting, just to see the Bucks jersey. That means that they care about the team," said Antetokounmpo, who admitted ("I’m not going to lie . . . ") that, like Parker and several team officials, he never expected the impressive turnout the event received.
Antetokounmpo, at 6-foot-11 and maybe 215 pounds, is still a thin player looking to add muscle. Therefore, he said, any uniform that helps him appear to fill out the fabric is a good one in his eyes.
"Oh yeah, I look good," he said, laughing. "You guys see me in the picture; I look big. The jersey make me look big."
If the Bucks are to keep doing big things — in basketball and as a business — they’ll need continued development from Parker and Antetokounmpo, who improved quantifiably in his second NBA season. The latter recognized the need to take another professional jump and said his individual goals this offseason include taking "lots of shots" and becoming more disciplined regarding how his off-court habits — including eating and sleeping — impact his on-court play, where he’s becoming an athletic, do-everything difference-maker.
Still, Antetokounmpo, who last month was running pickup games against Sepolia locals and on Saturday was playing games of Lightning against prepubescent Bucks fans, doesn’t mind having to work for it.
"The most talented kid out there, I won him," Antetokounmpo said of beating a 10-year-old on the Block Party court, "but he really make me sweat. That was fun."